How NOT to do customer service

for the last few years I’ve been buying my tomato-seeds from one supplier here in Germany.

This time round another $20 for seeds … and one packet just didn’t germinate. (obviously the one I most want, a Mallorcan variety called “Ramallet” – apparently at the end of the season you simply uproot the whole plant and hang it up to dry … and then you have fresh tomatoes for months to come)


Tried different type of soil, different temperatures, nothing.

So, I write to them, explain that ALL others come up quite nicely, but this one doesn’t, and would they be so kind and replace it.

Their reply:

that’s not possible, we’ve had them all tested before shipping, you’re the first one to complain, and you’re clearly doing something wrong.

But, as a gesture of good-will, we’re willing to send you ANY OTHER packet of tomato-seeds

(just not the one you really want).

Yeah, that’s exactly why I’m writing to you: because I want ANY OTHER variety, just not the one I really really want.


Ah well, $20/year obviously isn’t much, but clearly from next year it’s another supplier who’s getting that annual payment

Right, the main reason isn’t to moan or complain, or even shame them (in case you’re wondering: the site in question is…. ), but to illustrate an important “customer service” principle that’s apparently totally counter-intuitive:

give anyone who complains MORE so they not only get their complaint sorted out, but also experience for themselves the better/more expensive option.

Example from our sales-workshops for the newspaper advertising reps:

whenever they stuff up (which happens more often than you think … wrong date, wrong name, wrong copy, wrong this, that or the other… all the way to forgetting to publish the ad celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the largest small business in town…), instead of just giving them a refund, we taught them to give them a free new ad (this time correct) PLUS give them the bigger & better option (larger, in colour, wider circulation,…)


Because bigger & better usually gives better results, and that way they see for themselves that it’s actually worth investing in the bigger & better (and more ‘expensive’) ads.

Always gets a lot of “ahhhhh, wow, that makes sense” … and makes you wonder why it appears to be so counter-intuitive…

So, take-away lesson for today:

let your prospects or clients experience the ‘better’ version … has a much greater probability of ‘upgrading’ them to the more expensive option in the future than ‘pure selling’ does.



PS: the obvious ‘upgrade’ for the tomato-seed-situation would of course been a sample pack of tomato-varities I hadn’t tried or, based on my previous purchase history, perhaps a sample pack of totally different plants.

Ah well …



  1. There are a number of stories about fashion based businesses snubbing customers. One such group botched it so badly, the customer decided to go on social media. Within a while that group was history… I just can’t remember their name.

    Always give people what they wanted… or a refund & a freebie.

    Wiri Wiri sounds like an Aussie Aboriginal name. It would be interesting to see just how far & wide tomatoes were spread by traders… way back. Cheers Phil Tozer

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